Sharapova, Stephens advance to fourth round at Australian Open
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Maria Sharapova recovered from the longest, hottest match of her career to beat Alize Cornet 6-1, 7-6 (6) Saturday and reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Her third-round match was played in high humidity but in temperatures of about 22 Celsius (72 Fahrenheit), considerably cooler than the scorching 42 C (108 F) conditions she endured for 3 hours, 28 minutes in her second-round win over Karin Knapp two days previously. That preceded the first match suspensions under the tournament's Extreme Heat Policy in five years.
Again, though, Sharapova struggled to close out. She took 50 minutes between her first and last match points against Knapp, and needed almost a half-hour to finish off Cornet - she missed a match point with a wayward backhand on the Frenchwoman's serve and then got broken twice while trying to serve out.
Sharapova is slowing finding her groove in her second tournament back after a prolonged break for a right shoulder injury. She had six double-faults and 29 of her total 35 unforced errors in the second set after breezing through the first against Cornet.
''After the last match I'm just happy to get through this,'' Sharapova said. ''Definitely need to step it up. I was lucky to get through the other day, now that I'm in the second week, I'm level.''
The four-time major winner needed an ice bath after her second-round win but joked about needing a warm bath following her victory over Cornet.
''It's such a quick change,'' Sharapova said of the cooler conditions. ''I think it's really welcome from all of us.
''Everyone that played a long match in those conditions is going to feel physically and emotionally tired, and that's the way it goes. You just have to find a way to get through it ... that's what I did.''
No. 25 Cornet appeared to be laboring between points in the second set, spending time retreating to the shade and breathing deeply at certain stages. She had been clearly distressed after her second-round win in the heat, which she described as like ''an oven.''
Sharapova will next play Dominika Cibulkova, who beat No. 16 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-0 in 59 minutes. Suarez Navarro was clearly still fatigued from her three-hour, second-round match in the extreme heat. She hit only two winners against Cibulkova.
''I finished the last match with pain. I tried to recover yesterday but it was not possible to play good today,'' she said after Saturday's defeat. ''When you play with these players at this level, you need to be 90 percent perfect or 100 percent perfect. If you are less than this, you cannot play, you cannot be on court.''
Two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka made it all look routine Saturday in defeating unseeded Yvonne Meusburger 6-1, 6-0 in a third-round match at the Australian Open.
Azarenka broke Meusburger's serve twice in the first four games and was rarely troubled in exactly one hour to advance to a fourth-round match against American Sloane Stephens.
Last year, Azarenka beat Stephens in the semifinals at Melbourne Park under acrimonious circumstances when Azarenka took a questionable medical time out while trailing Stephens. When Azarenka returned, she broke Stephens' serve and went on to win the match.
''Sloane is a great player, she's improved so much from last year,'' Azarenka said Saturday.
Former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic had a 6-4,7-5 win over Kurumi Nara, her third consecutive victory over a Japanese player, to set up a fourth-round match against No. 11 Simona Halep, who advanced with a 6-1, 6-4 over qualifier Zarina Diyas. Fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska had a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 over No. 29 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska had a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 over No. 29 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and will next play Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who beat former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
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